It’s official: Dusty Baker is the new Nationals manager

67 Comments

The back-and-forth of the past 24 hours involving Bud Black, Dusty Baker and the Washington Nationals is now over: The Nats just announced that Dusty Baker is their new skipper. He has a “multi-year deal” according to James Wagner of the Washington Post.

Baker’s hiring comes after a deal with the club’s first choice — Bud Black — fell through due to financial terms and contract length, according to multiple reports. Black is an established manager who wanted a contract in the range which established managers get. The Nats, either because they were lowballing him or because they simply don’t understand the manager market, felt that a short deal — two years — and low money — $2 million — was sufficient. When Black backed out they went to Baker.

Which isn’t to say that Baker is a bad choice. And that’s the case no matter how much snark and joking has come to surround almost any mention of Baker over the past couple of years. He’s become something of a figurehead for old school managers who are no longer in vogue and became a target of baseball analysts who lament the days when managers didn’t pay attention to pitcher workloads and did not seem on the surface to be carrying out a front office’s plan as opposed to their own. And while there may be some truth to that as a descriptor of Baker, it’s pretty old and not really accurate conventional wisdom on the man or on the state of managing in 2015.

Baker got a lot of criticism for his handling of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood in Chicago. And it’s absolutely the case that they were worked harder than you would like to see young pitchers worked. But if we’ve learned anything in the past several years, it’s that any pitcher, even the ones whose workload is most closely monitored, can tear ligaments and break down. What’s more, Baker evolved as a manager when it came to his use of pitchers, particularly while in Cincinnati. To the extent you’re using the “oh no, Dusty is going to destroy pitchers” line of attack on him, you’re about a decade out of date.

More troublesome for one’s criticism of Baker, though, is that it ignores the fact that he has won everywhere he’s gone. He won a pennant in San Francisco, made the playoffs in Chicago and won a lot of games and two division titles with the Reds. His successors . . . tend not to do too well. This doesn’t make him some super hero — Baker has always benefitted from taking jobs with teams poised to do good things — but he has not underachieved either and he has not been an impediment to winning.

Ultimately, the value of Dusty Baker is his experience and his history dealing with his clubhouses. Specifically, he has a lot of the former and a lot of success with the latter, making him the anti-Matt Williams in just about every respect. The Nats should want that, right?

Bud Black is a good manager who is well-respected in the game. I think the Nats made a good call in offering him the job and made a mistake in lowballing him. But I also think that, even if the politics behind this managerial move are troublesome for the Nats, the ultimate result — getting Dusty Baker — is a pretty OK outcome. Going from Black to Baker will not be the difference between winning and losing in 2016 and beyond. And winning with Dusty Baker is something a lot of clubs have done in the past.

Yankees star Judge hits 61st home run, ties Maris’ AL record

aaron judge
Cole Burston/Getty Images
3 Comments

TORONTO — Aaron Judge tied Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 home runs in a season, hitting a tiebreaking, two-run drive for the New York Yankees in the seventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday night.

The 30-year-old slugger drove a 94.5 mph belt-high sinker with a full-count from left-hander Tim Mayza over the left-field fence at Rogers Centre. The 117.4 mph drive took just 3.8 seconds to land 394 feet from the plate, and it put the Yankees ahead 5-3.

Judge watched the ball clank off the front of the stands, just below two fans who reached over a railing and tried for a catch. He pumped an arm just before reaching first and exchanged a slap with coach Travis Chapman.

The ball dropped into Toronto’s bullpen and was picked up by Blue Jays bullpen coach Matt Buschmann, who turned it over to the Yankees.

Judge’s mother and Roger Maris Jr. rose and hugged from front-row seats. He appeared to point toward them after rounding second base, then was congratulated by the entire Yankees team, who gave him hugs after he crossed the plate.

Judge moved past the 60 home runs Babe Ruth hit in 1927, which had stood as the major league mark until Maris broke it in 1961. All three stars reached those huge numbers playing for the Yankees.

Barry Bonds holds the big league record of 73 for the San Francisco Giants in 2001.

Judge had gone seven games without a home run – his longest drought this season was nine in mid-August. This was the Yankees’ 155th game of the season, leaving them seven more in the regular season.

The home run came in the fourth plate appearance of the night for Judge, ending a streak of 34 plate appearances without a home run.

Judge is hitting .313 with 130 RBIs, also the top totals in the AL. He has a chance to become the first AL Triple Crown winner since Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in 2012.

Maris hit No. 61 for the Yankees on Oct. 1, 1961, against Boston Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard.

Maris’ mark has been exceeded six times, but all have been tainted by the stench of steroids. Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998 and 65 the following year, and Bonds topped him. Sammy Sosa had 66, 65 and 63 during a four-season span starting in 1998.

McGwire admitted using banned steroids, while Bonds and Sosa denied knowingly using performing-enhancing drugs. Major League Baseball started testing with penalties for PEDs in 2004, and some fans – perhaps many – until now have considered Maris the holder of the “clean” record.

Among the tallest batters in major league history, the 6-foot-7 Judge burst on the scene on Aug. 13, 2016, homering off the railing above Yankee Stadium’s center-field sports bar and into the netting above Monument Park. He followed Tyler Austin to the plate and they become the first teammates to homer in their first major league at-bats in the same game.

Judge hit 52 homers with 114 RBIs the following year and was a unanimous winner of the AL Rookie of the Year award. Injuries limited him during the following three seasons, and he rebounded to hit 39 homers with 98 RBIs in 2021.

As he approached his last season before free agent eligibility, Judge on opening day turned down the Yankees’ offer of an eight-year contract worth from $230.5 million to $234.5 million. The proposal included an average of $30.5 million annually from 2023-29, with his salary this year to be either the $17 million offered by the team in arbitration or the $21 million requested by the player.

An agreement was reached in June on a $19 million, one-year deal, and Judge heads into this offseason likely to get a contract from the Yankees or another team for $300 million or more, perhaps topping $400 million.

Judge hit six homers in April, 12 in May and 11 in June. He earned his fourth All-Star selection and entered the break with 33 homers. He had 13 homers in July and dropped to nine in August, when injuries left him less protected in the batting order and pitchers walked him 25 times.

He became just the fifth player to hold a share of the AL season record. Nap Lajoie hit 14 in the AL’s first season as a major league in 1901, and Philadelphia Athletics teammate Socks Seabold had 16 the next year, a mark that stood until Babe Ruth hit 29 in 1919. Ruth set the record four times in all, with 54 in 1920, 59 in 1921 and 60 in 1927, a mark that stood until Maris’ 61 in 1961.

Maris was at 35 in July 1961 during the first season each team’s schedule increased from 154 games to 162, and baseball Commissioner Ford Frick ruled if anyone topped Ruth in more than 154 games “there would have to be some distinctive mark in the record books to show that Babe Ruth’s record was set under a 154-game schedule.”

That “distinctive mark” became known as an “asterisk” and it remained until Sept. 4, 1991, when a committee on statistical accuracy chaired by Commissioner Fay Vincent voted unanimously to recognize Maris as the record holder.